Archive for January 28th, 2005

Overkill: DUI, Train Wrecks and Murder

Friday, January 28th, 2005

Police and prosecutors have an obligation to seek justice, not vengeance. Their job is to apply the laws as written, not as personal feelings, political considerations and/or special interest groups dictate. And nowhere in the criminal justice system are passions, political considerations and special interest groups more prevalent than with drunk driving.

A few days ago a young man in Indiana became intoxicated and accidentally drove his car off the road and landed in an embankment. His girlfriend was thrown from the car and killed. As any experienced officer or prosecutor will tell you, the obvious charge is DUI and vehicular manslaughter. He was, however, charged with murder.

There are some of you whose reaction will be: He deserves it. Morally, that may or may not be. We are, however, a nation of laws, and he deserves the punishment set forth by those laws. If the legislature wishes to call a drunken but accidental homicide a murder rather than manslaughter, they are free to do so. Until then, police and prosecutors should follow the law rather than passion and pressure.

How far can it go? Well, how about the death penalty for DUI? And if you think that’s just sarcasm, read my post about a drunk driving trial that recently took place right here in the United States. We are living in an increasingly vindictive society, a society of passions rather than laws, as evidenced by developments after the recent train wreck here in Los Angeles.

A deeply disturbed man, trying to commit suicide, sits in his car on the train tracks and just before the collision panics and jumps out of the car. The offense should be obvious: multiple counts of involuntary manslaughter. (By a great stretch of logic, one could argue 2nd degree murder due to "conscious/willful disregard for the lives of others", although that seems refuted by his mental state and wandering through the carnage afterwards crying out "I’m sorry, I’m so sorry".)

Yesterday, however, he was charged with eleven counts of murder. And the media has been loudly reporting (hoping?) that the D.A.’s office will be seeking the death penalty. Even the staid New York Times reported that the District Attorney, "his voice firm with anger", said that "Because this man was distressed, 11 people are dead from his selfishness" and that he was considering the death penalty.

When did we start executing people because they were distressed or selfish? Or, as in DUI cases, stupid or reckless? Whatever happened to "cold, calculating and premeditated"? While the rest of the world is abandoning the death penalty, we in the United States are expanding it to include juveniles and unintended homicides.

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